Editorial | Getting Internet savvy in 2018
Making the Internet safer for our children will likely emerge as one of the daunting challenges of 2018, even as the constant use of digital media causes public-health concerns around the world.
The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that one in three Internet users worldwide is a child. As these so-called digital natives develop their profiles, they access the Internet on their phones, laptops or tablets, at school, at home or wherever they are. Indeed, their lives are almost totally consumed by the Internet that opens up a new world just beyond their fingertips. Wi-Fi service makes it so easy to reach out and touch someone even across continents.
The Internet presents numerous opportunities to broaden one's horizon to communicate and learn skills. That is the good part. But there are negative aspects and safety concerns attached to Internet usage.
It is no secret that lurking in the shadows of the Internet are bullies, sexual predators, traffickers, criminals and other unsavoury characters. In keeping with the ways people socialise in the 21st century, children connect with friends through their online profiles, on games forum, or via various apps.
Many parents remain blissfully unaware of what their children are doing on social-media sites. Worse, a vast majority of parents are not savvy about the Internet and, therefore, unable to navigate the platforms visited or to unveil the history of their children's Web activities. There is a great digital divide between the generations, and the gap needs to be narrowed.
This is partly why the Office of the Children's Advocate launched three social-media manuals in November last year. Designed for the pre-pubescents, teens and adults, these user-friendly manuals titled #Besocialbesmart are intended to guide Internet usage.
The manuals were developed using data gathered from several primary and secondary schools that highlighted the urgent need for guidance to ensure the responsible use of the Internet.
We congratulate the OCA for recognising that the answer to Internet safety is not by restricting access but rather to promote responsible usage via education. These manuals ought to be readily available in schools and public places, as well as being accessible online.
Some parents and family members unwittingly start to create digital footprints for their infants by posting cute pictures of their loved ones as soon as they are born. It is estimated that more than 80 per cent of children have an online profile, even before they reach their second birthday. The capacity of the Internet to store personal information is limitless.
Parents, teachers, policymakers and law enforcers all have to be aware of the downside to the current high-tech communications revolution. While children must be protected from harm, sometimes they also need to be saved from themselves. Developing bad habits like viewing pornography or exchanging nude and lewd photos or how to respond to strangers who are intent on sexual grooming are some of the problems that have surfaced with Internet usage.
The fact is that being online, even if playing a game, opens the door to a number of possibilities for communication, including sharing photos, downloading music and watching movies.
So while there are opportunities to grow in understanding digital media and create opportunities, we must be vigilant because the Internet is associated with a number of risks, and the challenge lies in raising awareness for security and well-being.